Yak Wool - the Holy Grail?
What is it about Yak Wool? Santosa's best selling products are the Himalayan 'Yak Wool' Wraps and, in their larger size, the Himalayan 'Yak Wool' Blankets. Both remain our biggest sellers from when we first began trading in 2010. Light weight, versatile and extremely warm they come in a range of fantastic vibrant colours. Why are these so popular and are they made from genuine Yak Wool - the Himalayan Holy Grail of textiles?
Walking through Kathmandu and Pokhara you pass mountain upon mountain of these vibrantly coloured blankets and wraps piled up outside the shops in the popular tourist areas. Snapped up by the suitcase-full, they are known as yak wool shawls in Nepal - often advertised as 'Baby Yak Wool'!
Available in such large quantities, sold at the cheapest of prices, coming in the widest range of vibrant colours. Back home, across Europe and America, the very same product is sold under the same banner - 'Yak Wool'. How is such mass production of a limited natural fibre possible?
The facts are that the Himalayan Yak, a close relative of the cow and buffalo, is found only in the higher altitudes of the Himalayas. Vital to the lives of the people who live there, small family groups have used the domesticated yak for thousands of years as a source of nourishment, transportation, textiles and fuel. Their seasonal nomadic lifestyle is adapted to migrate up and down the mountains following the melting of the snows and unveiling of the rich grazing lands during the warmer weather.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO), Nepal currently has an estimated total of around 20,000 domesticated yaks, each of which can produce half a kilo of fine hair (Pu) and another half kilo of coarse hair (Chirpa) annually. This natural fibre, with its amazing qualities of water resistance, odour repellence and heat insulation, is hugely limited in supply.
Yes, it is possible to find genuine yak wool shawls and blankets. However, these genuine yak wool textiles come with a hefty price tag that is understandably relative to their scarcity. Natural yak wool fibres don’t take the colour dyes!
The gorgeous, brightly coloured, widely available soft wraps, including our own Himalayan 'Yak Wool' wraps and blankets, are not produced from yak wool. These are a gorgeous blend of acrylic fibres woven into a cotton framework, sometimes on hand looms, other times in small factories, and brushed with stiff bristles to produce that gorgeous soft texture that we in the West wish to believe come from the under-coat of the yak - the ‘warmer than cashmere’ Holy Grail of the Himalayas.
As for the softest of soft shawls and blankets, the ones advertised as ‘Made from Baby Yak Wool’ be warned – these are 100% acrylic, mass produced in neighbouring China and India and imported by the truck load into Nepal. A lovely product, but not one made in Nepal!